Kept By God Through Fire & Water


Bless our God, O peoples;
    let the sound of His praise be heard,
ho has kept our soul among the living
    and has not let our feet slip.
 For You, O God, have tested us;
    You have tried us as silver is tried.
 You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
You let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance. || Psalm 66.8-12

The Psalmist calls the people of Israel to bless the LORD and give voice to His praises in this remarkable portion of Scripture. The people of God are enjoined here to remember His faithfulness, and at the root of their praise is a sweet surrender to His keeping and sanctifying power. They are to bless Him for His faithfulness in preserving them, and for His Covenantal commitment to make them holy.

The God of Israel had “kept” their “soul among the living” and had “not let” their “feet slip.” He had been revealed as the Covenant-keeping-God, by Whose protecting and preserving hand they had been loosed from Egyptian incarceration and bondage. There is an intimate acknowledgement here of His presence in their deliverance.

Every drop of water which moved to part the Sea; every step that each Israelite took upon the dry-bed; every heart-beat and breath along the way; every passing of man, woman, and child from the land of bondage to the Land of promise—- every portion came from the hand of the One Who had kept their souls in His own “kind intention.” Few things speak so clearly and tenderly of this truth like the Lord’s description of Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel.” 

His keeping power is a precious reality, one which ought to evoke the highest praises from His people, for like the nation Israel, we are powerless to save ourselves, and powerless to finish our course without Him.

Along with the excellencies of God’s keeping and delivering power, the Psalmist calls attention not only to Israel’s deliverance, but to the purpose of their entire pilgrimage, that they [and we] might bless Him rightly.

It wasn’t only their preservation and deliverance from Egypt which was effected by God, but their testing and crushing as well. This is an oft-neglected truth among present day believers.

“For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads…”

This is the theology of sanctification, perceived by the Psalmist in the history of Israel, and it ought to land upon the Church with a most powerful conviction and hope.

There is no being brought into the “joy of our Master,” no arrival at the “place of abundance,” without passing through the trial, the “crushing burden,” the sifting of Divinely orchestrated testing. This comes to us not by the hand of an aloof Dictator, but by the hand of an infinitely wise and trustworthy Father who “disciplines the ones He loves.”

It was not merely the Egyptians who tested and crushed the people of God. They were merely instruments in the hand of the Potter. It was “You,” God Himself, Who was the Author of their “testing” and “trial”, for “You laid a crushing burden on our backs.”

Have we made peace with the revelation of God as the One who chastens, breaks, and refines His people? Have we a humanistic residue in the soul, a “not Your will but mine be done” disposition; one which is willing to bless God for provisions and deliverances, but not for His dealings with us in sanctification?

The God of “steadfast love” laid the “crushing burden” upon Israel, and He likewise lays it upon us. It is not a burden meant to crush His children, but rather a burden meant to crush that which remains in our hearts of a “boasting in the flesh”; that which blurs and impedes our view of Him. It is the fire of testing, which is predestined by the Lord to bring us forth as silver.

One day that crushing will find its consummation in the people of Israel, in the glorious Day of their promised redemption. Our experience in the faith will bear the same kind of character. The dealings of God with Israel are a statement and prototype of His dealings with the children of God in this age, and it is crucial that we should see this.

One of the ways by which He keeps us is by testing us, trying us in the fires of real life, and He means in this to crush every idea and impulse which rises up in our hearts “against the knowledge of God.” He will bring us into the net of trial on many occasions throughout our sojourn— He will lay crushing burdens on our backs, and even permit men to “ride over our heads,” that we might be “tried as silver” and “brought to a place of abundance” in Him.

Do not be quick too attribute every hardship and difficulty to the enemy. There are times- perhaps daily, even hourly- when Satan is tempting and accusing, and we need simply to “resist” him that he might “flee.” This we should do, not giving any “foothold” to his lies.

But do not be mistaken, testings and trials are also determined by God for our own sanctification- that we should be holy as He is holy. There are crises which the enemy means for evil and men mean for harm, but which God means for our good. This is a clear thread of truth which runs through the whole of the Biblical testimony. It was true for Israel, and it is true for us also.

God means to “shake everything that can be shaken” in us, that “only His unshakable Kingdom may remain.” There are bewilderments, disillusionments, disappointments, tragedies, collapsed ministries, inexplicable seasons of pressing and breaking which come from the hand of the Father, and these give evidence not to His having forsaken us, but rather to His unswerving commitment to our conformity into the image of His Son. He is committed to our joy.

He will bring us “into the net” of situations in which we find ourselves entangled beyond human explanation, pressed to cry out to Him for wisdom and grace. He will lay “crushing burdens on our backs,” things too difficult for us to resolve on the basis of our own strength, that we might seek the “better way” of His love, that we might lay down our lives and surrender again and again to His perfect will.

He will even “let men ride over our heads”; that is to say, to wrong us, offend us, speak ill of us, betray us, and misunderstand us, for His aim is the establishment our “everlasting joy,” and this can only be known to us when we “cease striving,” “lean not on our own understanding,” and “look unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” 

This sifting is one of the means by which God keeps “our soul among the living,” and the child of God, when he or she is seeing rightly, will welcome this blessed cross. By it, “the world is crucified” to us, and we are “crucified to the world.” By this crushing of our own self-sufficiency and pride, this ongoing mortification of our Adamic propensities, we are brought “through fire and through water” to the “place of abundance”— that place in which the “likeness of Christ” is being formed in us, and He has become our chief desire and treasure.

This must become a conviction for us, and there is hope and meaning to be found here that addresses the deepest questions, uncertainties, and pains which otherwise blanket the history of men with chaos and purposelessness.

Trials are full of meaning for the children of God. They are not to be denied or circumvented, but to be discerned with the help of the Holy Spirit and embraced as one of the means by which the Kingdom of God comes and the will of God is done in the earth— indeed, in our very hearts.

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2.10)

May it never be. Seeing Him as He is, bowing low before Him, learning to trust Him amidst the “all things” which “work together” for our “good”, blessing Him and letting the “sound of His praise be heard”, even in the trial— Herein is the wisdom which belongs to the sons and daughters of God Almighty.

The Church which knows its God in this way will be fitted to proclaim His worth to a world that is languishing in the prison of sin, dampened, darkened and isolated from the free and clear “place of abundance,” incapable of reversing and enjoying the One who is “full of grace and truth.”

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. || Acts 16.25-26

To know His keeping power, to know His siftings, and to bless Him in the midst of them is to “be” His Church— that witness-People through whom His “manifold wisdom” is “put on display.” This is at the heart of the apostolic faith. It is the ballast in the vessel of our so great Great Commission.

We would be wise to reflect upon these things, and to learn the art of “Blessing our God” in light of them. He is the one who tests and tries us. He is the One who keeps us. He is the One Who brings us to the place of “life more abundantly.” This is to be our experience in Jesus Christ, and by it He becomes our portion. There is no sweeter treasure, no greater reward than Him.

‘Tis my happiness below
Not to live without the cross,
But the Saviour’s power to know,
Sanctifying every loss;
Trials must and will befall;
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all,
This is happiness to me.

God in Israel sows the seeds
Of affliction, pain, and toil;
These spring up and choke the weeds
Which would else o’erspread the soil:
Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.

Did I meet no trials here,
No chastisement by the way,
Might I not with reason fear
I should prove a castaway?
Bastards may escape the rod,
Sunk in earthly vain delight;
But the true-born child of God
Must not — would not, if he might.

-William Cowper, “Welcome Cross”, 1855

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. || 1 Pet. 4.12-14

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